Doctor Who: Year of the Pig Review
The Sixth Doctor and Peri's holiday is interrupted by a variety of strange characters... including a talking pig!
"Year of the Pig" is, without doubt, one of the strangest Doctor Who stories ever produced. Oh, there are many wacky and wild adventures for the Doctor and their friends in the canon, but very few are as strange as "Year of the Pig". I mean, a talking pig in a dinner suit would be strange enough, but that's only the beginning. Strange characters, stranger motivations, a train chase across Belgium and Austria, and a scene where it literally rains steak down on our heroes only add to the sensation that this is something very unusual. And, while perhaps not quite the barnstorming masterpiece it could have been, it remains one of the most unusual Big Finish audios ever produced, and a testament to how far the team are willing to push the Doctor Who format in order to tell interesting and varied stories.
As you can tell from the paragraph above, it is rather hard to sum up the plot for this story. There's a lot going on, and some of it is impossible to describe without sounding like you've lost your mind, but here we go: something very odd is going on in the Hotel Palace Thermae. A fan of the theatrical arts is hunting for someone staying at the hotel. A famed detective nearly drowns in the sea. A most unusual couple are spending a week reading books on the beach. But, strangest of all, is the guest in suite 139. A guest tended to by a most officious nurse. A guest... who happens to be a pig. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Writer Matthew Sweet doesn't just push the envelope with what can be done with Doctor Who: rather he rips it right open without bothering to use one of those fancy letter openers. This is in no way trying to act like the era it hails from, or even taking classic Doctor Who and updating it for the 21st century: this is something utterly unique and different to anything else in the franchise, before or since. It feels more like a Noel Coward play than a Doctor Who story: the characters are larger than life, the comedy broad and verbose, and the language rich and fruity. It is the perfect story for Colin Baker's Doctor in many ways, and it certainly showcases the Sixth Doctor at his best. However - "Year of the Pig" is by no means a perfect story. At times, one could argue the tone of the story is a little too clever-clever for its own good, and I'm not sure it totally justifies its exceptionally long run-time. Some of the gags don't always land, and I think paring down the story somewhat may have helped some of the gags land better. That being said, what is there is pretty brilliant, even if the plot doesn't really intrude in the story until the second episode. The gentile pace of the story allows us to feel like the Doctor and Peri really are on holiday, and we get some time to see the Doctor and his companion in a relaxed setting, something the TV series rarely affords the characters. By the end, there's more of a sense of a traditional Doctor Who story going on: things like dangerous experiments, the ethics of time travel and a grand twist where its revealed our opponents are nothing of the sort help to not make this story feel too lightweight or comedic, and, like the best Doctor Who stories, the lighter elements sit alongside the darker ones.
Like I mentioned above, the characters are larger-than-life, and the story revels in the fact, rather than shying away from it. Toby the pig may not have been created by a scientist from another time and place, but he was a real 'figure' (if you read up on him you'll understand why I've put that bit in inverted commas), and him being a faded music hall star works a treat with the kind of story Matthew Sweet is telling. However, the other characters do their utmost to give the pig a run for its money, especially the outrageous Inspector Chardalot, who ostensibly appears to be our villain. Michael Keating gives a performance befitting the outrageous nature of the character, without feeling like it is so over-the-top it is completely unbelievable. It's a world away from his portrayal of Vila in Blake's 7, and it allows him the chance to go hell for leather. Two other Doctor Who legends make up the guest cast of this story: Adjoa Andoh (better known for playing Tenth Doctor companion Martha's mum Francene) and Maureen O'Brien (better knows as the First Doctor's companion Vicki), and both get the chance to unleash the constraints that the roles they are better known for usually put on them. O'Brien, particularly, makes the dotty Alice Bultitude an incredibly memorable character, without making her a single gag machine. And, of course, Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant get the chance to own the stage and show just how fun the Doctor and Peri could have been in the 80s, had it not been for the turbulent times the show was going through at that point. John Ainsworth's direction brings the story to life, while the production work of Gareth Jenkins and Andy Hardwick fills in the details in the soundscape beautifully. Like the story, this is a gentile production that works at evoking a particular tone and style, and it compliments the script no end.
Overall, then, "Year of the Pig" is something a little different in a show that can often fall into formula and stock ideas. It's delightfully absurd, joyfully irreverent and ultimately a lot of fun if you have a jovial sense of humour. It isn't perfect, let me be clear about that, and there are issues that, I feel, prevent this from being as good as it could have been. But I would much rather listen to a story that dares to try and be different over one that remains resolutely traditional, with a standard plot made up of clichés. "Year of the Pig" is, for that reason, a must listen for fans of the Sixth Doctor era, and fans of the show who like it to really push the boundaries of what the format can do.
You can purchase "Year of the Pig" as a digital download here: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/doctor-who-year-of-the-pig-256
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